Murder on the Orient Express/Espresso


In 2017, I read my first Agatha Christie novel, after her books were referenced several of the books I had read throughout the year, like in the High Mountains of Portugal, The Rules of Civility, and Behind Closed Doors.

I did a little research on which of her books to read first and found several lists and lots of opinions on the interwebs!

Ultimately, when I found out Murder on the Orient Express was coming to the big screen, I decided to read it first and then see the movie.

While reading, I had a bit of time keeping track of the characters at first. Then everything started to jumble together and felt slow in the middle; but the ending had a great pay-off. Then I went to see the movie in the theater. While Rotten Tomatoes didn’t love it {it was getting ratings in the 30% range at the time}, I did! I may have even liked it more than the book. I really enjoyed the recreation of the time period. It just made me happy.

However, after seeing the movie in the theater, I noticed that the 1974 movie version gets much better ratings on Rotten Tomatoes {90+%!}, so I put my name on the long waiting list and ended up checking out the DVD out from my local library a month or so later.

While the film’s budget was nothing like that of the current version, you can hardly argue with a cast like Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery. And after about an hour in, I realized that Detective Poirot was played by the actor (Albert Finney) who played my beloved Daddy Warbucks in the 1982 film version of Annie, one of the first movies I saw in the theater as a kid!

I did like the 1974 version, too.

However, while searching online to see if my library even had a copy of the 1974 movie adaptation, I came across a book called Murder on the Orient Espresso

Although it was a possible that this was a retelling of Christie’s classic, I knew the characters much better now and thought it might be fun. Besides, it was something else that drew me to this book… It’s book #8 in a series about a coffeehouse owner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’m originally from Wisconsin and it’s not often you read many books set in my home state. Also, the name of her coffeeshop is Uncommon Grounds. Back when I was in the wine biz, I always talked about our uncommon wine. I felt a connection!

Now, this particular book of Balzo’s was not set in Wisconsin, but on a Murder Mystery train in the Everglades because the protagonist is vacationing there with her boyfriend. And I didn’t expect this book to be out-of-this-world; but rather, just a bit of fun… I mean, just look at the other titles of books in this series by Balzo:

  •  Uncommon Grounds
  • Grounds for the Murder
  • Bean There, Done That
  • Brewed, Crude and Tattooed
  • From the Grounds Up
  • A Cup of Jo
  • Triple Shot

Got a guess what some of those other mysteries might be about?! The book was a fun, easy read. But I didn’t know it was going to be about snakes. Ewwww!!!

Truth be told, I’m not really a mystery girl. I sometimes get bored in the middle of them. It was mostly the setting and a few of the characters that drew me in to the Louise Penny novels!

I guess I should accept the fact that I do enjoy them; they just aren’t the genre I immediately flock to… but the same is true of other genres. Just when I realize that the book I just loved was a thrillerI find that most of them are not my style… There are some romance novels I truly adore, but some are just way-over-the-top. And when it comes to movies, my husband is always surprised when there is a sci-fi movie I can get into… (Well, truthfully, I am too!)

But I think it just takes a really good story, with lots of different humanizing and relatable elements to make any genre enjoyable.

Do you stick to one genre of book or movie?
If so, what is it and what do you love about it?



Tuesday: The Trout Diaries


Welcome to my new installment The Trout Diaries! It’s a series of emails I sent my dad after our Charter Fishing Trip to Duluth last summer. I was trying out approximately one new recipe each week since I’m not in the habit of cooking fish and I wanted to make sure none of haul went to waste.

If you missed the first recipe and my adaptation {Fire-Roasted Tomato Poached Trout for One}, you can click here.

Three days after that first email…


Date: 6/30/17
From: Carrie
To: Dad
Subject: Twin Cities Chefs – Trout

I have a cookbook called Twin Cities Chef’s Table.
The attached is in the cookbook.
It’s from a restaurant in St. Paul that Rob and I went to once that’s known for its farm-to-table, local, sustainable cuisine. It closed about a year ago, but it looks like the new owners will be turning it into something fishy! 🙂
Attached to this email, I apparently sent my dad a picture of a recipe for Grilled Lake Trout with Braised Turnip Greens & Yogurt Sauce from that cookbook.
I am not sure why I sent him this recipe, as its one I’d never make and nor would he! Maybe I wanted to show him that Twin Cities restaurants like to cook locally? Ha! Too bad, that restaurant isn’t open anymore to try this dish…
Here’s the next email:

Date: 7/11/17
From: Carrie
To: Dad
Subject: Trout Recipe of the Day

Today for lunch, I made this Baked Trout Fillets recipe, but scaled it back for 1. (Very easy and creamy!) I served it with a side of sauteed kale made similarly to this recipe.



Lol! I’m so full of words up there ^^. Here is my adaptation from Taste of Home‘s Baked Trout Fillets.

Creamy Baked Trout for One

  • 4 to 6 oz fillet lake trout
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1-2 Tbsp shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Squeeze of lemon juice (approx 1 tsp)
  • 1 tsp of onion (diced small) or 1/2 tsp onion flakes (optional)
  • salt and pepper


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Mix all ingredients except fish to combine.
  • Place fillet, skin side down in a shallow, greased baking dish or pan.
  • Spread mixture over fish and bake for approximately 20 minutes, until fish is cooked through.
  • Fish should flake easily with a fork

Some people say that fish and cheese together is a no-no.
I don’t really mind! It’s cheese!
What’s your take and why?


5 for Friday: Recipes I Made…


…from the best cookbook you’ve never read!

As promised, I’ve been working my way through Jules Clancy’s 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes …. I love that Jules is teaching me how to adapt with what I have on hand. Sometimes her suggestions for variations inspire me to do my own thing! It turns out, these recipes came alive when I was trying to use up some cherry and grape tomatoes!

Reminder: salt and pepper and olive/cooking oil are always assumed “free” pantry ingredients in Jules’ recipes.


Chicken and Egg Fried Rice

Ingredients: chicken breast, basmati rice, eggs, soy sauce, spring onions

Here are my notes, with what I changed in blue:

  • Instead of chicken, I used 1 cup of (cooked) Korean ground pork. A friend sent these leftovers home with us when she made us a Bibimbap dinner one night. I promptly froze it for another day. It was a perfect addition and Rob-friendly. See, you can adapt with what you have!
  • I used 2 cups white rice (not the basmati indicated in the recipe.) Not a big deal, right?
  • Instead of peanut oil, I used 1 tbsp seasme oil and 1 tbsp grapeseed oil (high smoke point)
  • I don’t have a wok, so just used a saute pan.
  • I added a couple of handfuls of chopped carrots. (They might have been frozen, I don’t remember!) and half of an onion.
  • I was generous with the S&P!
  • My version made 2 very generous servings, but I broke it down into 3 smaller ones for leftovers.
  • I didn’t write down how long it took me to make this recipe, but considering it was my first time making fried rice, it came together quickly.
  • You can find a similar fried rice recipe in the free e-cookbook on the Stone Soup blog.
  • Will make again. This is husband approved!


Salt-Crusted Burger

Ingredients: ground beef, tomato ketchup, mayo, English muffins, lettuce

Here are my notes, with what I changed in blue:

  • Forgot to get a photo of this one, sorry!
  • This recipe reminded me how much we love love English Muffins as hamburger buns! It’s hard to imagine going any other way.
  • We don’t keep ketchup in the house because we don’t really like it. Occasionally, I’ll use ketchup when I’m ordering fries out and the fries can’t stand on their own or they don’t have a better sauce to serve. Normally, our burgers at home are served with homemade mayo. But a little leftover Alouette cheese spread is what I decided on to moisten our English Muffins this go round.
  • The recipe calls for scant tsp fine sea salt. I didn’t have that on hand. I used 1/2 tsp kosher salt instead. It worked just fine.
  • I also topped our burgers with some Wisconsin Aged Swiss Cheese. What’s a burger without cheese?
  • This recipe took me 8 minutes. Yes, you can have a burger on the table in 8 minutes! I think I served roasted broccoli, which took much longer. But I got all that started before I started the burgers. Maybe I should have done this broccoli in another pan.
  • You can find this burger recipe in the free e-cookbook on the Stone Soup blog.
  • Will make again. This is also husband approved!


Tomato, Bread and Bocconcini Salad

Ingredients: cherry tomatoes, sherry or white wine vinegar, rustic bread, flat leaf parsley, bocconcini (small mozzarella balls)

Here are my notes:

  • I don’t have any notes on this one, but I know I pulled a mini-baguette out of the freezer and baked that up before I started this recipe. If I had the bread on hand, it would have been a lot quicker!
  • This was just an easy, no brainer recipe – throw everything together and there you go.
  • My only problem with this is that I didn’t buy the marinated bocconcini, so I  needed to add a little olive oil and a some more seasonings.
  • After my bread was baked from frozen, this took me just minutes to throw together in a bowl.
  • This recipe is an absolute yes.


Mel and Carlos’ ‘Green’ Eggs

Ingredients: eggs, butter, pesto, baby spinach


Here are my notes, with what I changed in blue:

  • Not the prettiest of pictures, but it will have to do.
  • I remember the first time I made eggs with pesto and realized how genius it was! This recipe was no different.
  • It just reminded me that it’s a good way to use up pesto in your fridge and add a bit of flavor to your scrambled eggs!
  • My photo includes a handful of frozen baby spinach I added to the pan at the beginning (instead of fresh at the end).
  • I also threw in some leftover cherry tomatoes for good measure. (My friend gave me some cherry tomatoes she wasn’t going to use up in time – I was making the most of them this week!) Since it was December when I made this recipe, I called these Christmas Eggs. 🙂
  • This recipe took me 10 minutes.
  • Will make again. In fact, I’ve been making scrambled eggs with a little shredded mozzarella and a dollop of pesto on top ever since.


Seared Tuna and Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients: tuna steaks, cherry tomatoes, capers, arugula, mayo

Here are my notes, with what I changed in blue:

  • This may be one of my new favorite recipes!
  • Did you know that you can get individually wrapped, sustainable tuna steaks at Aldi? I was able to make this recipe for one!
  • My only changes to this recipe would be that I would sear the tomatoes for a bit longer. I like them to burst and get a bit wrinkly.
  • I don’t ever cook with capers, so they were a purchase specific to this recipe and they really helped make the dish!
  • To be honest, the tuna was so good, I don’t think the mayo was eve needed. I’m not sure if it was meant for dipping or to top on the salad. But I think the greens are fine with a little squeeze of lemon juice, drizzle of evoo and sprinkle of salt and pepper.
  • This recipe took me less than 10 minutes.
  • Will definitely make again. 

What are your favorite recipes for cherry and grape tomatoes?


Recipe Fail… sort of


I had my first recipe fail out of the best cookbook you’ve never read. Well, it wasn’t a fail, really – I ate it! It just wasn’t the amazing goodness, I’ve had from all of Jules’ recipes so far! {See broccoli and green curry soup, cooking with canned fish, salads and stir fries, and broccoli + protein and I have several more to post!} It may also have been my fault. I decided to make my own variations. Oh well, it’s only from failure that we learn!


Spanish Chicken with Chickpeas

Ingredients: chicken thighs, smoked paprika, chickpeas, cherry toms, almonds

Here are my notes, with what I changed in blue:

  • I believe the point of this recipe is to teach that you need to pound your meat (here, chicken thighs) thin in order to get them to cook fast. I didn’t have any chicken thighs, so I opted for some shredded chicken I had in my freezer. I thawed it first.
  • I didn’t have smoked paprika, so I used the regular paprika, but I wanted to up the flavor ante; so I looked up some Spanish flavors on the google:

  • Here, I added one heaping tablespoon of minced garlic to the olive oil in the pan, as well as 1 oz of diced kalamata olives. <– loved this addition!
  • Overall, I found this recipe to be dry.
    • This could be that I didn’t have any juices from freshly cooked chicken thighs.
    • Maybe I didn’t use enough EVOO in the beginning. (Though I didn’t give it a little finishing drizzle.)
    • Maybe I should have cut the tomatoes in half to let the juices flow.
    • Or maybe I should have used canned tomatoes.
    • In any case, my version of this recipe was definitely in need of a sauce of some sort.
  • This recipe took me 11 minutes.
  • Will try this recipe again, maybe. 

Any suggestions on how to improve a dry recipe?


New for Tuesday: The Trout Diaries


After our Charter Fishing Trip to Duluth with my parents last summer, we had a cooler full of Lake Trout (and one Coho Salmon, thanks to Rob!), I knew that I was going to have to make a plan to make sure to eat at least a serving of it each week. I didn’t want any to go to waste! Because Rob is allergic to fish and seafood and my mom just doesn’t eat it, my dad divided up the fish and distributed between the two of us.

I resolved to cook one new recipe each week!

After the first recipe I made, I emailed the link to my dad; along with what I did to adapt the recipe to cook for just me and what I thought of it. I continued to the do this each week, sometimes with a photo of my creation.

The result was a series of emails that I now lovingly like to call The Trout Diaries. To keep record of which ones I liked and did not like, I’m planning to post each Tuesday, excerpts from these emails to my dad.

Please note: My dad isn’t exactly email nor internet savvy, so along with posting the link to the recipe, I always copied and pasted the actual recipe. I know I cannot do that on the blog, so sometimes I will take that part out and/or put my own adaptation.

Here’s to using up that fish in your freezer!


Date: 6/27/17
From: Carrie
To: Dad
Subject: quick lunch

Hi Dad!

I made this quick lunch with my lake trout today!

*I just did one fillet (it ended up only being 4 oz after I cut off the skin. I need to get better at that!) Instead of marinara, I just used a can of fire-roasted tomatoes. I chopped a bunch of fresh herbs from my herb pot (garlic chives, oregano, basil, parsley – I was surprised how much I liked the oregano best!) and sprinkled them on top. I served it with a side salad with mixed greens, shredded parm, sunflower seeds and a drizzle of butternut squash oil. ~



Here is my adaptation from Nom Nom Paleo‘s Poached Cod in Tomato Sauce:

Fire-Roasted Tomato Poached Trout for One

  • 6 oz fillet lake trout
  • 1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • fresh herbs (garlic chives, oregano, basil, parsley, for example)
  • salt and pepper


  • Rinse and blot fish with paper towels, season with salt. (You can cook skin on or off.)
  • Add can of fire-roasted tomatoes to a pan over high heat and bring to almost boiling.
  • Add lake trout (skin side down if using), cover the pan with a lid and lower the heat to a simmer.
  • Cook 5 to 7 minutes until fish is cooked through and transfer to a plate.
  • You can remove the skin at this time, as it should peel away nicely.
  • Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and top with fresh herbs – my fave was the oregano!

~I served it with mixed greens dressed with a drizzle of butternut squash seed oil and topped with shredded parm and sunflower seeds.

Have you ever poached fish in canned or jarred tomatoes or salsa before?


Lemony Pesto Chicken Soup


I was at the salon the other evening and while reading a magazine, came across a page of quick soup recipes. “Hey, I have all of those ingredients!” I said to myself of one of the recipes and promptly took a photo so that I could recreate the recipe for lunch the following day.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember what magazine I got it from, so I can’t give credit where it’s due; but I’ll post the photo anyway, followed by my adaptation.

Sounds good and easy, no?

I had a box of broth in the fridge that I knew wasn’t 6 cups, but still needed to use up.  So I sort of halved this recipe. Well, you’ll see in the ingredient list below! I also didn’t have any greens or fresh basil on hand, so I opted for a handful of frozen green beans, which I threw in the pot about a minute before the chicken. It came together fairly quickly. The result was a bowl full of goodness:

It’s a generous portion for one or two small portions if you are serving it along-side something like a sandwich or, say, a nice hunk of bread. Here is my adaptation:

Lemony Pesto Chicken Soup
(Serves 1, generously)

  • 3 to 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I had just under 3.5 cups left to spare)
  • 1/4 cup orzo
  • 1 cup frozen green beans
  • 1 cup shredded chicken {I didn’t halve this part of the recipe!}
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice {Nor did I halve this part!}
  • 1 Tbsp pesto
  • 1 Tbsp shredded parmesan (optional)
  • salt and pepper


  • Bring broth to a simmer in a saucepan.
  • Add 1/4 cup orzo and cook to al dente (approximately 1 minute less than package instructions.)
  • Add frozen green beans about one minute prior to the orzo being cooked to al dente. (Or thaw them first.)
  • Add 1 cup cooked, shredded chicken and heat through, about one minute.
  • Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.
  • Transfer to serving bowl.
  • Top with a dollop of pesto and season with salt and pepper to taste.

So comforting and so healthy! And my green beans were perfectly cooked! While my favorite chicken soup is still this Immunity Soup, I don’t always have those ingredients readily on hand. So, this Lemony Pesto Chicken one is great to adapt, too, in a pinch. I’m going to go all Jules Clancy on you and give you a few adaptations:


  • Use rice or other pasta or grain instead of orzo or omit entirely
  • Use any favorite vegetable or green you have on hand. Add delicate greens at the end, but frozen vegetables while the pasta is cooking.
  • Use white beans or chickpeas instead of the chicken.
  • No pesto? Add a drizzle of oil at the end and/or another fresh herb!

Have you ever adapted a recipe you found in a magazine?
What is a recipe you seem to change up every time based on what you have in your kitchen?


The Best Books I Read in 2017


Looking for a few good reads this coming year?

Here is a list of a books I read (that were not necessarily published) in 2017, that I also rated 5 out of 5 stars on GoodReads.  I have included three books each from three separate categories. Enjoy!


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon

I saw the play, so I knew what was coming. But I was still crying all the way driving home from work as the story ended. It’s a great story in general, but the narration is fantastic. I highly recommend this on audio. (My review here.)





Behold the Dreamers – Imbolo Mbue

I didn’t know anything about this book in advance, only that it was recommended on audio. Man, is the narrator fantastic with the voices! This immigration novel will pull at your heartstrings. (You can read my short review in this post.)




Kitchens of the Great Midwest – J. Ryan Stradal

Yes, I listened to and recommended it last year. Yes, I listened to it again – this time, with my husband. He loved it, too. I have no regrets of duplicating those hours. I love this book.






Dinner: A Love Story – Jenny

This cookbook reads like a novel. That’s how I read cookbooks; so it was a match made in heaven. After checking it out from the library, I purchased my own copy. Which reminds me, those beef short ribs aren’t going to braise themselves. I need to open that one back up!



Well Fed: Weeknights – Mel Joulwan

This is another cookbook that got me excited to purchase my own copy. Now that I have it, I need to go back through, flag those pages and do some cooking! I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, you don’t need to be Paleo to enjoy this cookbook. (I’m not.) Joulwan will teach you how to cook without you even realizing it.


Five Ingredients, 10 Minutes – Jules Clancy

You already knew this, since I declared it the Best Cookbook You’ve Never Read! I’m still making my way through it and must say that I never knew how quickly tasty and satisfying meals could come together! I’ve got more results to post!




It Takes One to Tango – Winifred M Reilly

I wasn’t even looking for this book; but it is one of the best books I’ve read all year! It came up in a list of books about marriage that are actually useful. I read it on a whim and found it a surprisingly quick and eye-opening read. Whether you think your marriage is on the rocks or you just have the same little arguments over and over again, this book is for you.




Bon Appetempt –  Amelia Morris(I just reilaed this was also on Audio, but the audio isn’t the reason I liked it, where those 3 books above are great on Audio!

I just realized that I listened to this one on audio, but I didn’t put it in that category. You don’t have to listen to this one audio; so it fits fine here. In fact, I bought the printed book afterward because I wanted the recipes she described and read to me! We all have been on our own culinary journey as our knowledge of cooking and taste buds evolve. This is one woman’s story. And I liked it.




Obama: An Intimate Portrait: The Historic Presidency in Photographs – Pete Souza

This is an absolutely beautiful and historic coffee table book! The amount of work and hours Souza put in to capture all of these moments, both personal and professional, both joyous and heart-wrenching blows my mind. This is dedication to work and the result is stunning.




Rules of Civility – Amor Towles

It’s not common that I check a work of fiction out from a library and then promptly purchase the book after I’ve read it because I know I will be re-reading it in the future. You can read my review in this post.





This is How It Always Is – Laurie Frankel

Whoa. I had no idea what this book was about before I opened it. It may have taken me a bit to get into; but I was thinking about it for weeks afterward. I don’t want to give too much away… but you can find my review at the end of this post.






A Dog’s Way Home – W. Bruce Cameron

I love Cameron’s books written from a dog’s perspective. (I never did see the movie adaptation of A Dog’s Purpose.) But this one may just be his best yet. My husband doesn’t like to read books about dogs because he always fears that the dog will die and he will be sad. Don’t worry, that is not the case here. (I’m not giving it away, the title tells you that!) So worth the read, especially if you are a dog lover.








The Deal of a Lifetime – Fredrik Backman

The author of a Man Called Ove conceptualized this book by thinking What If? And it is such a good one that takes place on Christmas Eve. It might be completely different from anything you’ve ever read… or maybe it isn’t. But it’s quick, easy and thought-provoking. I really enjoyed reading it this holiday season.






If you had one book to pick to recommend that I read in the New Year, what would it be?